Learn How To Choose Nordic Walking Poles

Nordic walking

Nordic walking poles are used in an opposite fashion. If trekking is like riding a mountain bike, Nordic walking is like riding a road bike. They are both classically aerobic activities, but have the potential for anaerobic training. Nordic walking poles are lighter, sleek, and streamlined for forward propulsion. The ideal terrain for Nordic walking is an open asphalt road or a dirt path at least 4 feet (1.2 m) wide, but you can also walk on gravel, sand, and grass. Another distinct difference in technique is that Nordic walkers keep their pole tips to the sides and behind the body to propel themselves forward and to achieve a cardiorespiratory workout.
Poles can range in price from $59 to $200. This chapter highlights the differences in design features of various models and compares Nordic walking poles to trekking poles in detail. It also addresses footwear, apparel, and optional accessories for Nordic walking.

 Although they are simple, Nordic walking poles have distinguishing features that set them apart from poles used for skiing or trekking, as well as from other brands used for Nordic walking. The following section discusses the handle, wrist strap, shaft, and rubber tip in detail.

The handle, located at the top of the Nordic walking pole (figure 2.1), is one of the unique features of this piece of equipment. In contrast to trekking poles, which are thicker in diameter, most Nordic walking poles have a narrow profile. This sleek and purposeful design encourages you to hold the poles loosely, allowing them to float in your hands during movement. 
Handles can be made of soft and shaped rubber, cork, or neoprene, depending on the model and manufacturer. Some walkers prefer cork, which is cooler to the touch in hot weather, and others prefer rubber or neoprene, which retain body heat in cooler weather.

Wrist Strap 
Most poles have a wrist strap, which is attached to the handle approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm) below the top of the pole, and some are removeable by clicking out of a Nordic walking pole. Unlike the looping strap of trekking poles (figure 2.2a), the wrist strap conforms to the hand and passively attaches the wrist to the pole. In contrast, the looping straps on trekking poles require you to actively grip the handle. By design, the passive wrist strap (figure 2.2b) allows you to effortlessly move the pole with your hand while maintaining a neutral wrist. Wrist straps are usually constructed of soft, breathable material, and some models offer different sizes to ensure a glovelike fit.
This unique design provides several benefits. For example, the passive hand contact around the pole handle reduces unnecessary activation of muscles in the wrist and forearm. Contracting smaller arm muscles often leads to overactivation of the neck and shoulders. Golfers know that hand contact around the club that results in gripping that is too tight wreaks havoc on an otherwise relaxed and accurate golf swing and leads to premature fatigue over the course of a game. Similarly, you should minimize unnecessary muscle tension, which causes inefficient movement, premature fatigue, and possible muscle strain. One of the many reported benefits of Nordic walking is the reduction of muscle tension in the neck and shoulders (Anttila et al. 1999, Karvonen et al, 2001), which also relieves the stress commonly held in that area of the body. Maintaining loose hand contact around the pole handle during exercise may decrease blood pressure from contracted muscles and encourage blood flow. Finally, individuals who cannot make tight hand contact around a pole due to arthritis or other conditions can still use the poles effectively.
Some wrist straps have a release button or trigger mechanism that detaches them from the pole. This convenient design allows you to easily sip a bottle of water or take off a jacket without removing the straps altogether. Choose the design of your poles according to your needs and your skill level.
Regardless of design, you should wear the wrist strap appropriately to minimize the risk of injury. With most designs, place your hand through the largest opening and your thumb through the smaller opening and tighten the Velcro strap around your wrist until the fit is snug but does not cause friction or hinder circulation. If your model has a removable wrist strap that offers multiple attachment settings, attach it as close to the handle as possible to reduce excessive movement between your wrist and the pole (figure 2.3).

(Figure 2.3 There are a variety of strap systems. Some poles come with removable straps, which  can be a convenience  to grab with. Regardless of the type, be sure the strap fits snugly.)

The pole shaft connects the handle with the tip, which makes contact with the ground. Like the poles used in trekking and skiing, the shafts of Nordic walking poles are made from a variety of alloys, including aluminum, carbon fiber, and fiberglass. To increase the efficiency of aerobic exercise, Nordic walking poles are light and have little swing weight, sometimes weighing as little as 13 ounces (370 g). Heavier swing weights are counterproductive for Nordic walking, since the poles’ tips should remain behind the body to propel you forward. To minimize swing weight, some poles are designed so you can adjust the height at the top of the shaft. 
The strong shafts of Nordic walking poles dampen vibration and absorb shock to ensure comfort, safety, durability, and efficiency. Materials that are too soft absorb your energy, but stiffer materials transfer kinetic energy to propel you forward. Nordic walking poles are also incredibly strong. One manufacturer, Leki, offers a lifetime warranty against breakage and states that their adjustable pole locking mechanism can withstand approximately 300 pounds (140 kg) of holding force. 

Where the rubber meets the road, a uniquely designed tip clearly differentiates Nordic walking poles from other types of equipment. Trekking poles typically have hard and pointed metal tips or rounded rubber tips that are placed in front of the walker for support and balance. In contrast, Nordic walking poles have angled rubber tips (figure 2.4a) that propel you forward when placed on the ground behind you. This little rubber piece is special because it allows you to dictate the intensity of the workout by the amount of effort you apply to it, regardless of your speed.
Rubber tips vary in shape, length, and width. However, virtually all designs let you remove the tip to expose a sharper point for traction on softer and more varied terrain (figure 2.4b). The rubber tips are typically used for asphalt and cement and the heavy metal or tungsten carbide tips are used on dirt, grass, gravel, sand, and ice. You may determine which tip is most appropriate for you to avoid slipping. A few manufacturers now sell rubber tips that are embedded with carbide points. These models are designed for use on both hard and soft surfaces, including slick, wet surfaces and ice.
Like the tires on a car, rubber tips wear out over time. Replace them every six months for heavy use and once a year for moderate use. Replacement tips cost between $7 and $20.

(Figure 2.4 (a) A pole with a rubber tip attached for walking on pavement and (b) with the rubber tip removed for walking on dirt and other off-road surface conditions.)

The small rubber baskets at the base of Nordic walking poles prevent the tips from bending or breaking in soft ground or gravel. Some manufacturers also offer an interchangeable webbed basket for use in the snow that costs between $8 and $25.

Pole Length: Fixed or Adjustable?
Depending on the brand you select, the length of Nordic walking poles is either fixed or adjustable. The following section discusses the pros and cons of each type to help you make an educated selection.
Most manufacturers offer Nordic walking poles of adjustable length. Both types have certain advantages. Some argue that fixed-length poles are lighter and quieter because they don’t have heavy moving parts or rattling hinges. Others purport that fixed-length poles are stronger and therefore safer. Fixedlength poles are typically less expensive than adjustable ones. Additionally, some walkers feel that they are easier to use.
Although some models of adjustable poles may be cumbersome, telescoping poles made from materials such as carbon fiber are often as light and as quiet as fixed-length poles and can weigh between 7 and 9 ounces. As previously mentioned, an adjustable pole can accommodate up to approximately 300 pounds (140 kg), depending on the manufacturer. This weight limit should be more than sufficient for Nordic walking, particularly since the poles are used more for pushing off the ground in pulses than for bearing weight. Unless the equipment is being used for pole vaulting, most poles should provide more than enough support for a Nordic walker!
Assuming that adjustable poles are equal to those of fixed length in terms of strength and weight, there are several other advantages. First, you can alter an adjustable pole to accommodate your advances in skill level over time. Beginning Nordic walkers tend to start with shorter poles, and may increase the length as they become more proficient or for use on varying terrain. For example, walking up and down hills, in sand, or in grass can require tiny adjustments. You may even decide to change the height of your poles depending on which shoes you’re wearing. Additionally, multiple users of different heights can share adjustable poles. An obvious downside to this option is that users who share poles cannot walk together at the same time, benefiting from the social nature of the activity. Finally, adjustable poles are more travelfriendly because they can be stowed more readily. Some pole models have two adjustable points, which allows them to compress to fit into a suitcase. Be forewarned; do not attempt to pack your poles in your carry-on luggage. They may be confiscated by security, which is a bit more painful than losing a set of nail clippers. However, if you follow the rules and check them with your baggage, traveling with poles is a great option to ensure that your vacations include Nordic walking.

Pole Height: How Tall 
Determining the best pole height is not an exact science. Some manufacturers determine pole height by simply calculating a fraction of body height. This is the easiest method, particularly if you are purchasing poles online. Other factors include the length of your arms and legs, stride length, joint mobility, technique, shoes, and terrain. Therefore, adjustable poles help compensate for these other factors over time.
The following section outlines the mathematical calculation for determining pole height. Many experts recommend that pole height be roughly 68 percent of body height. Most manufacturers sell poles measured in centimeters, so readers who don’t use the metric system should use the following calculations to estimate pole height: 
Walker’s height (inches) × 2.54 = Walker’s height (cm) 
Walker’s height (cm) × 0.685 = Estimated pole height (cm) 
If your poles are measured in inches, simply multiply your body height in inches by 0.685 to estimate the necessary pole height.

The following method more accurately accounts for limb length, and must be done with a set of poles in hand:
 1. Loosen poles until they reach a height that is slightly higher than your chest.
 2. Place your hand through the strap and tighten it. 3. Place the rubber tips next to your heels.
 4. Relax your shoulders and your hand contact around the handles (wrist should be neutral), extend your arms in front of your body, and lower your hands until your wrists are slightly lower than your elbows or at the level of your navel.
 5. As the poles gently glide to the correct height, mentally mark the desired pole height. Then, place the pole on the ground. Lift the pole you are going to adjust at an angle between vertical and horizontal and tighten it accordingly. Match the other pole’s height to the adjusted one and tighten accordingly.
This method also considers the length of your arm when extended. If it is maintained during exercise, arm extension can increase range of motion in the shoulder joint and can subsequently involve more muscles. It is also the key to using the poles optimally and efficiently.
You must use poles of the proper height to prevent injury. Generally speaking, if you are unsure of proper technique, use shorter poles to accommodate your shorter strides and limited range of motion in your trunk, shoulders, and arms. Tall poles may force longer stride lengths and greater range of motion than you are ready for. Beginners in any fitness activity tend to do too much too soon, which may result in injury. As you advance you will need longer poles, and adjustable poles facilitate correct sizing.
Modifying the pole length is beneficial for accommodating the heights of different shoes, varied terrain, and changes in skill level. This can only be done with adjustable poles. Shorten your pole approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm) when walking on dirt trails, uneven surfaces, or inclines to allow the poles to move more freely. You should also shorten your poles a bit if you have preexisting injuries. Lengthen the poles as your stride length and upper-body flexibility increase. Although these adjustments may seem minor, small nuances in biomechanics can determine whether your movement is inefficient or fluid.

Pole Maintenance 
Nordic walking poles require very little maintenance. If you have fixed-length poles, your only concern is cleaning. If you have adjustable poles, consult both the sections on cleaning and pole separation.

One of the unfortunate by-products of outdoor exercise is that gear can get quite dirty when exposed to the elements. Who bounds into the garage excited to clean gear after an intense workout or a day outdoors? Fortunately, you won’t need to clean your poles very often.
The parts of the pole that have the most contact with grime and sweat are the handle and the wrist strap. Wipe down the handle with a damp cloth after each use. Gently wash the wrist strap with warm water and mild soap, and then blot it dry with a towel.
After walking in snow or rain, you should wipe off the pole shafts with a dry cloth. If you use adjustable poles in really wet conditions, separate the two parts of the shaft and set them out to dry. On the other hand, after walking in sand or on dirt trails, use a damp cloth to wipe off the poles and restore their look to new. If you adjust your poles regularly, you should clean the shafts to keep dirt or debris out of their locking mechanisms.
The bottom tip of the pole has plenty of opportunities to get dirty. Keeping the grooves in the rubber tip clean may give you better traction on cement or asphalt. After using the poles on a dirt trail or in the sand, wipe the exposed surface of the tip completely with a damp cloth. If you really like to keep your equipment pristine, you may remove the rubber tips from the poles and rinse them with water. If you have difficulty removing the tips, put a small amount of baby powder inside them and make sure they are clean before you put them back on the poles.

Pole Separation 
This section applies only to adjustable poles. You may need to separate the different sections of your poles to clean them or to repair any complications with the tightening mechanism. Although brands differ in design, the following directions can be used for most styles of adjustable poles.  
First, as a precaution, hold the poles nearly vertical whenever handling them or making adjustments. Those standing next to you will appreciate this safety tactic, because if you chose to pull the shaft apart horizontally, you might inadvertently jab them when the pole releases. Next, use your nondominant hand to grasp the upper shaft just above the adjustment point and your dominant hand to grasp the lower shaft. Holding the pole stable with your nondominant hand, use your dominant hand to loosen the lower section by rotating it to the left. Use the adage “righty tighty, lefty loosey” to remember the directions for loosening and tightening. Once you feel some give between the two sections, firmly pull them apart.
The lower shaft of most brands has a plastic device at the top called the expander, which tightens the pole and locks the two shafts together. Occasionally, the expander may become stuck, making it difficult to tighten or loosen the pole. In this case, turn the expander until it appears to be in a middle position, then place the top shaft over the lower shaft and push the two sections together. Use your nondominant hand to hold the pole by the top shaft in a nearly vertical position, and then turn the bottom shaft to the right with your dominant hand. Most styles of poles are sensitive to overtightening. Usually, a few complete revolutions of the lower shaft are sufficient to tighten the sections back together.

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